Q&A with A Rocha Canada Co-founder Leah Kostamo
For those not familiar, can you explain what A Rocha is all about, including your unique approach as a Christian environmental organization?
A Rocha is an international conservation organization working to show God’s love for all creation. In Canada we have projects in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario focusing on environmental education, conservation, and sustainable agriculture. I think what makes us unique in the environmental world is that while we see the severity of the environmental crisis, we work not from a place of fear or crisis management, but of stewardship—responding to God’s call to “care” and “keep” (Genesis 2) the earth. So, our care for creation is discipleship and worship.
What is the first biblical passage you would take someone to when making a case for creation care?
There are a few I readily point to. The first would be Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” which pretty quickly knocks the legs out from under the idea that creation is something that belongs to humans to use and abuse as they see fit. The second passage is a bit more obscure, but it opened my eyes to the moral quality of creation care. That is Hosea 4:1-3. It’s basically saying the end result of sinning against God by not loving Him is not only things like lying and murder, but fish and birds and animals dying and the land mourning. It’s a pretty sobering passage.
Some Christians claim that tree huggers value nature over people. Can you speak to how ecological decline affects people?
The obvious ones are drought, severe weather events, and rising sea levels. I have a friend who grew up in Ethiopia. The subsistence farmers depended on predictable rain cycles for their crops, which determined when they planted and harvested. But all that started changing in the 1980s and has gotten increasingly more unpredictable, so now they plant at various times hoping there will be enough rain to grow their crops. The United Nations predicts environmental refugees will soon outnumber those who are refugees because of conflict.
“The environment is what every person has in common, because we all breathe and eat and live in the biosphere.”
Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that we have 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half to prevent irreversible damage. How does A Rocha steer clear of doomsday proclamations in favour of hope, but still address these urgent matters?
We take the IPCC’s assessment very seriously, calling us to action. But that action is done in cooperation with the Spirit. This is what roots us in hope—that we can participate with God in His caring for creation (and conversely we can lament how we have lived in ways that have not honoured our Creator). We care for creation because it’s the right thing to do.
The environment is a major issue in the upcoming federal election, with each party addressing hot topics such as the carbon tax and the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. What advice would you give Christians when it comes to voting?
I’d point them to Citizens for Public Justice, which is a fantastic Christian group based in Ottawa that assesses various political parties’ views on these and other issues, so that voters can be informed as they go to the polls (www.cpj.ca).
As a wildlife artist I realize how wonder plays a role in my creative process. Can you talk about the importance of experiencing the outdoors?
Go outside to a natural place, even if it’s just your backyard and sit for 20 minutes without looking at a device and just observe with all your senses what is around you. What do you hear? What do you smell? See? Let what’s around you be for its own sake and for God’s sake, not your sake. Take Jesus’ words seriously: “Consider the birds of the air and consider the lilies of the field.”
How have you seen environmental stewardship become a bridge between Christians and non-Christians?
The environment is what every person has in common, because we all breathe and eat and live in the biosphere. We have great friends within various environmental groups, whether faith-based or secular. In fact, A Rocha is the only Christian environmental group that is part of the International Union for Conservation Science, which is the UN’s conservation arm.
How can youth and young adults as well as pastoral leadership introduce creation care in their churches?
There are so many ways! Preach a sermon on creation care. Sing songs that include creation themes. Have outdoor services (our church held a Forest Church service outside). Celebrate Good Seed Sunday in April. You can check out arocha.ca/goodseedsunday for loads of downloadable sermons, liturgies, Sunday school materials, and more.
How can our readers find out more about A Rocha and get involved?
Check out our website (arocha.ca) or come visit one of our sites [in B.C., Manitoba or Ontario]. Probably the best way to immerse yourself is by interning with us. Interns live in community and work at one of our centres for a three-month term. It’s quite a transformational experience and it’s really fun!